When we hear the word legacy, many of us think of money left to people and institutions that have come to mean the most to us over the course of our lives. But your legacy is much more than that. It includes your memories, values, wisdom, family history, and more that do not necessarily have monetary value. How can you pass those on to future generations?
You could begin by writing down, or making a recording of yourself sharing, stories about your parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Don’t just talk about where they lived and what they did for a living. Try to convey a sense of who your family members were, what was important to them in life, and the values they held dear.
You’ll want to take a similar approach in telling your own story. Describe why you made certain decisions, what you learned from mistakes, how you achieved success, and what you would do differently if you could. It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so be sure to preserve photos that depict your history and that of other family members. You might even want to create a website featuring your stories and photos, and invite family members to contribute to it.
Now let’s consider items that may not be worth much money but have a great deal of sentimental value: an old watch owned by your uncle, for instance, or the rocking chair that your mother used for many years. You’d be surprised at how many family disputes arise over items like these. If one of your children has shown interest in such an object, you could specify in your will that he or she receives it when you pass away. Regarding sentimental objects that have not been “claimed” by your children, consider using an estate planning letter to designate the person you would like to inherit it, and why.
What about your values, is there a way to increase the likelihood that these will be passed on as well? One approach is to use an estate planning tool, such as an Incentive Trust, to encourage certain behaviors while discouraging others. For example, your trust could reward your children for graduating from college, entering a certain profession, purchasing a home, or doing charitable work.
In the end, you may be surprised by how much your values, wisdom, and family history—the nonmaterial aspects of your legacy—mean to the people you love and future generations.